Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Host   Rewatch 
March 4, 2021 4:57 AM - Season 4, Episode 23 - Subscribe

When her Trill boyfriend gets injured, Dr. Crusher faces one romantic crisis after another as the worm turns.

And now your host, Memory Alpha:

• The original story focused on the war negotiations and contained no romantic component. Ronald D. Moore recalled, "The addition of Beverly to that story is the vital component. A lot of freelancers would take that premise and say this is a show about the ambassador and the struggles of the parasitic creature and the war negotiations. No one really cares about that. But when it becomes a Beverly problem, who's in the position with the problem, and to some extent Riker, that's how it became a Star Trek story."

• Brannon Braga characterized the genesis of the episode as "the most repulsive story ever pitched to us." He added, "Being in love with someone is not very fresh. Having the parasite as the host is. It was not originally pitched as a love story, it was pitched as a squirmy worm who's really the intelligence."

• Though the episode's writing credit is given to Michel Horvat, the shooting script was actually written primarily by Jeri Taylor, who is the solely credited writer on the script.

• The symbiotic species known as the Trill make their first appearance in this episode. They were later featured in more detail in Deep Space Nine and Discovery, though aside from the existence of the symbiont, the Trill featured in this episode share no resemblance to those of Deep Space Nine and Discovery (physically or otherwise).

• This episode was the first Star Trek episode directed by Marvin V. Rush. Rush, a director of photography on projects in and out of Star Trek, recalled that much effort went into shooting the episode so Gates McFadden's late-term pregnancy was always hidden.

• Marvin Rush disagreed with claims that Beverly's rejection of Odan in a female body was homophobic. He stated, "Most of the people that I have talked to thought the show worked pretty well and were entertained. Some commented that they were unhappy with the ending because it was left a question. There was, or could have been, a sort of homosexual aspect to it and we chose not to go that route with it. I felt that it was more about the nature of love, why we love and what prevents us from loving. To me the best analogy is if your beloved turned into a cockroach, could you love a cockroach? It's the same person, if the person is the personality and core within, but can you get past the outside? We as Humans are affected by the whole package, including the outside shell, and Gates in her last scene talks about maybe someday our ability to love won't be so limited. She says mankind may one day be able to deal with this, But I can't. To me that is about the nature of love and I think it's an interesting, worthy discussion. Rather than deal with the fact it was because of any homosexual bent per se, it's just that in our culture and our society people who are heterosexual who want the companionship of a male because they are female, wouldn't be able to deal with that opposite situation."

• Gates McFadden recalled, "Some people were outraged at any hint of homosexuality in this episode."


"I hope Dr. Crusher was able to help you with your headache."
"Uh… thank you. Actually, she was."
- Data and Odan

"Speak softly, governor. Those who cannot hear an angry shout, may strain to hear a whisper."
- Odan, in Riker's body

"Perhaps it is a Human failing, but we are not accustomed to these kinds of changes. I can't keep up. How long will you have this host? What would the next one be? I can't live with that kind of uncertainty. Perhaps, someday, our ability to love won't be so limited."
- Crusher, ending her relationship with Odan


Poster's Log:
Riker-Crusher…RikRusher, I guess…is never not cringey, and became moreso for me once I rewatched it after acquiring a profession, and knowing what professional relationships are like. The cringiness was of course the intent, and in that way, it holds up. I also want to highlight Picard's subtle reaction when OG-Odan indicates that he and Beverly have it going on.

The final Odan scene is…of its time, I suppose.

They did a better job of concealing McFadden's pregnancy here than I've seen done elsewhere; I never once spotted it, though I also didn't know that THIS was that episode, so I wasn't looking for it.

Not addressing how much Riker remembers once the symbiont is out feels like an intensely VOY-style omission. What a missed opportunity, to for instance maybe show Crusher and Riker maturely talking it through and accepting, together as friends, what happened.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Is there such a thing as healthy ambassadors in the Trekiverse?

This Mary Sue article is more relevant to stuff that DS9/Disco establishes about the Trill, but this is the last TNG Trill episode, so here's the link: "The Problem with the Trill Is the Problem with 'Star Trek'"
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
There's an awful lot to unpack from this episode, even knowing ahead of time that most of what it establishes about the Trill will be retconned away in DS9. One of the things that stuck out to me almost from the beginning was that the existence of the symbionts was this big secret; since it's very likely that the Trill are members of the Federation at this point (although, per the discussion about Lwaxana Troi last ep, it's not explicitly stated as such), I just find it super unlikely that this basic fact about them is a mystery. (I used to have the same problem about the alleged mystery surrounding Vulcan reproduction in "Amok Time", although that's handwaveable because the lack of knowledge really has to do with some of their marriage customs, which is much more plausible. Heck, I'm reminded by random bridezilla stories that there's a lot about contemporary American wedding practices that I'm (blissfully) ignorant about.) It's not even as if symbiotic relationships between organisms is that novel a concept; after all, humans have symbiotic relationships with the approximately 10,000 species of bacteria that live within us--we're basically starships for bacteria. It's possible that most of the Federation doesn't realize the precise nature of the symbiotic relationship, although even that's somewhat improbable; I mean, why wouldn't they talk about it? And the potential for just the situation that occurs in this episode is a hell of a good reason for letting other people know.

And then the whole awkward "no homo" thing at the end... OK, show. One of the things that's apparent both from the ep itself and from Marvin Rush's discussion of same quoted above is that not only were there some fairly unenlightened attitudes toward sexual preferences still in play, but that the people involved with this episode had a difficult time even really talking about it. ("To me the best analogy is if your beloved turned into a cockroach"--duuuuuuude. We don't need to bring Gregor Samsa into this.) I don't think that Crusher is a homophobe so much as a zero on the Kinsey Scale, and that's her right, of course, although it also seems to imply that her romantic feelings are pretty tied up in bumping uglies with Odan. However, that still leaves the bit about "Perhaps, someday, our ability to love won't be so limited", which... look. The heterosexual paradigm isn't universal, for some people it very much isn't and never has been "limited", and... yeah, OK, maybe it is just of its time. But it's only a few years out from DS9's "Rejoined" and it absolutely not being a problem for Jadzia Dax. (Unless the point is that it's specifically a problem for humans, which is still not really correct for all humans (and not a great assumption for a doctor to make), but also a pretty striking repudiation of the Roddenberryesque Humans Are Basically All Perfect Now paradigm.)

Anyway. Odan's actor is good, and Frakes does a decent job at toning down his Rikerisms when he's joined. And, at least before the accident, it's good to see Crusher getting some. I agree that some acknowledgement of what happened between Riker and Crusher would have been appropriate. I completely missed the pregnancy. And, yeah, good point about the ambassadors; in fact, one of the main points of Jadzia's character arc in DS9 is that, for all his professional accomplishments, Curzon Dax was really kind of a mess in his personal life.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:08 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I liked this one in general until the last few minutes when, sure, it's clear you need a reason for Crusher's relationship to end, but... that? Odan is a busy ambassador, it was a fun fling while he was on board, maybe the new host is just an uggo, whatever. And while I get the sci-fi appeal of changing host genders, maybe make that the whole focus of the episode instead of something that just sort of writes it out of continuity at the end.

Which I guess DS9 kinda sorta did justice to, maybe? It's been a while since I watched that episode, although the current household plan is to attempt a Trek-by-stardate viewing, for whatever it's worth, so it'll come up in another ... well, most of DS9 and a full season of VOY? By this summer, I guess, at how frequently we're watching them.
posted by Kyol at 9:32 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


The are so many weird problems with this episode, but what I keep coming back to is... they let Riker be the host? You're seriously going shove this horndog parasite inside your famously sex-hungry first officer? Aren't you afraid you'll be constructing some sort of, I don't know, Horny Voltron or something? And at this meeting, no one is raising an eyebrow at Riker immediately being all like "stuff it in me"? I think I've said this before, but the Enterprise needs an HR officer, like, stat.

I mean, come on, if you need to make the episode interesting, there are other options. Look: Worf is right there. Next time, can we do Worf? I mean, he probably hooked up with Pulaski. There's precedent, you know?
posted by phooky at 11:25 AM on March 4 [13 favorites]


maybe the new host is just an uggo

Now I'm imagining a Nausicaan host. "BEVERLY! PLAY DOM-JOT!"
posted by Servo5678 at 12:49 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Two cards today, both from Premiere, including the archetypical Federation Diplomacy Mission, which requires...Diplomacy. Yes.

Kareel Odan is a straightforward support personnel. Post DS9 there were two Trill-themed cards which interact with her, including the difficult but high value Symbiont Diagnosis mission and her vulnerability to Palukoo. Second Edition did a bit better by Trills with the handy dial-a-skill card Rite of Emergence.
posted by StarkRoads at 1:07 PM on March 4


Maybe the new host is an energy being and incorporeal. Oh, wait.
posted by pykrete jungle at 2:24 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Trill, book, and candle.

I'll stop now.
posted by pykrete jungle at 2:25 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


To me the best analogy is if your beloved turned into a cockroach, could you love a cockroach?

Oooohhh boy, that is a lot to unpack, isn't it? It does go a long way toward helping me figure out why I was cringing before I even pressed Play.

When this first aired, I was kind of excited about seeing Frank Luz, who I'd kind of developed a crush on when he was on the soap The Doctors, playing a love interest for Beverly, but that very quickly dissipated during the story, and the ending pretty much killed it for me. I remember kind of laughing in a way, even though I normally would find it super swoony, at scenes like the one in Ten Forward where he's staring across the room at her all broken and hurt, or the "I'm not going anywhere" line. But I'd eventually kind of chosen to avoid watching it whenever I rewatched, because I can kind of dismiss those now but I can't the ending, not at all. There are so many interesting things you could do with the concept of what makes us fall in love, and stay in love, with someone and how much of that is physical, but this is mired in heteropatriarchy in the worst, worst possible way.

(I still think Troi jumping to talking about loving her father when Crusher's been talking about romantic and sexual love is a really bizarre script choice as well, especially as a way for Troi to sort of encourage Crusher looking past the Rikerness of Odan and just grabbing the gold. "The first man I ever loved was my dad, I'd give anything to see him again, go bone Will, he's great." Oh...kay.)

Like others, I find it hard to believe that the Trill are not known to be in symbiotic relationships (I've kind of forgotten most about them, even though I watched the first couple seasons of DS9), but I think adding on to that is this idea of how, even if let's say they didn't know at all, Odan's excuse that he never thought to tell someone he was in an intense love relationship that "oh hey, I might end up changing bodies, hope that's not a bummer" is kind of sus, as the kids say, as is his compounding behavior and accusatory statements. I'm...not sure Doctor Beverly is the problem here (at least until the end).

You'd think with so many queer people in show business, this would not have been so difficult for them to handle. They sure did show what an environment of toxic masculinity the Trek behind the scenes world had become, didn't they.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:16 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Like others, I find it hard to believe that the Trill are not known to be in symbiotic relationships

Hot tip for denizens of the galaxy: keep your ways secret until they can cause an exciting plot twist on the starship Enterprise!

A number of unanswered questions here...like what makes Odan interested in being kissy kissy with Beverly, since she's not another beetle grub nor capable of hosting one in her? And what about that replacement host? Just checking in for another day of work where she loses her free will and--I guess--all awareness, so that she's effectively going to die! No discussion of what that's like?

Maybe I should backtrack that issue with the attraction for Beverly. I guess we can imagine that if the host is capable of feeling the attraction and also enjoying sex with Beverly, then Odan gets to feel all that as well.

You'd think with so many queer people in show business, this would not have been so difficult for them to handle.

I felt like the writers probably thought they were being progressive here, b/c even hinting at some homosexuality (of taking it seriously, anyway) was kind of daring for TV in 1991. On the other hand, it's impossible for me to believe that the angle of "oh, you're a girl now, so it isn't going to work" wasn't intentional. It's easy for me to believe that there were no queer people who felt empowered to say how unprogressive that makes the story.
posted by polecat at 4:31 PM on March 4


A number of unanswered questions here...like what makes Odan interested in being kissy kissy with Beverly, since she's not another beetle grub nor capable of hosting one in her? And what about that replacement host? Just checking in for another day of work where she loses her free will and--I guess--all awareness, so that she's effectively going to die! No discussion of what that's like?

That's one of the things that changes up between this episode and DS9; in the latter, the way that the Trill symbionts seem to work is that they're like transferring a hard drive to an already existing computer; the host still has all of their previous memories and experiences, but gets the accumulated memories of its previous hosts. That's one of the reasons why the prospective hosts have to undergo special training, in order to handle what would be similar to someone who is reincarnated getting the knowledge of all their previous incarnations, all at once. I'll stop there, because spelling out/explaining some of the complications and exceptions to the rules are basically the entire character arc of Jadzia Dax (and one other character) in DS9. I will say that most Trill aren't host to a symbiont.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:00 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it makes sense for the Trills to tell the Federation about how their biology works. Maybe they share the information on some level but not to a degree that it becomes accessible knowledge.

The races in the Federation are all at the same level of technological development. When they first get warp tech and decide to join they're a fair bit behind but then as a member I guess they fairly quickly get access to Federation knowledge and resources and then can make their home planets "paradise". Some races will want to do more and be more active members but for others they're likely pretty happy living life at home with just the odd member deciding to go out into the wider galaxy. I think that's partly why there are so many "planets of the week" in the show. If we're self-selecting to only interact with warp civilizations then unless they're already one of the big powers they don't have too much hope of becoming one so they may as well just enjoy life on their homeworlds.

For the Trills it means that probably only a couple have made a life for themselves offworld ever, like all the Trills the Federation has had sustained interactions with in history are probably the same 10 people. If the people around them don't know about the symbionts then when it is time for one host to die they can go back to their homeworld and a new envoy will come replace them some time later. The new envoy, being the same symbiont, knows everything that's happened to them but the people around them think of the envoy as a new person, who may have read some reports from the old Trill but won't know everything. Being underestimated like that could only be to the benefit of that Trill.

As far as the Sybiont/Host relationship is concerned, I feel like the combined Trill is probably 80% Host and 20% Symbiont or less, and that the Symbiont is more passive memories and experiences than anything else. In DS9 Ezri is different from Jadzia who was different from Curzon even though they all shared the same Symbiont. That's why Odan was interested in Beverly, they're both humanoids, and it is the Host that is doing the driving.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:02 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it makes sense for the Trills to tell the Federation about how their biology works.

In that case, maybe prepare to send your own medical professionals with every single other member of your species who are going Places in the universe. Expecting Federation doctors to handle Trill medical emergencies with no actual understanding of what this partner species' biology is like is a weird decision.
posted by hanov3r at 9:59 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Data wondering out loud if he could serve as a host for Odan may be the dumbest thing he's ever said.

Crusher and Odan's farewell wrist-kiss was really anemic, like they wanted it both ways, they love each other but they are afraid of getting cooties or something. But I didn't realize until looking it up that this episode was written just a couple months after television's first ever on-screen kiss between women, and there wouldn't be another for two years(!), and Ellen DeGeneres' coming-out episode of Ellen wasn't until 1997, so I'm probably not remembering how uptight tv was about this in the 1990's.

Also, like polecat mentioned, they never specify, but from context it appears like the host is completely overtaken by the trill implant--that is a really thorny issue that they decide to completely ignore. It would seem to be potentially the most interesting issue to wrestle with for a symbiotic species, so strange decision.
posted by skewed at 10:11 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]


Data wondering out loud if he could serve as a host for Odan may be the dumbest thing he's ever said.

I like to think that of course Data knew that wouldn't work, but felt honor-bound to at least half-assedly offer to show that he did consider it. It's like offering to shovel the snow on a warm summer's day. I mean, there's no snow out there, but technically I did offer. Don't say I never offer to shovel the snow. Geez. Get off my back about it already.
posted by Servo5678 at 12:51 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


this is mired in heteropatriarchy in the worst, worst possible way

I don't see it that way, and I'm an angry, strident trans gal. I never got the feeling Crusher was revolted by the prospect of being with the female Odan; as she says, it's the constant uncertainty of it all that she can't handle. Rush's roach comparison is really unfortunate, but I think he was talking about an absolute bodily transformation, and the challenges of loving a person when they've become a whole new physical being, more than he was saying that Odan was disgusting to Crusher as a woman.

Trek was really squirmy and circumspect about LGBTQ issues during this era, mostly because of pressure from Paramount. The franchise's treatment of this stuff can look pretty anemic when looked at through a 21st century perspective, but I give them some cred for what they did manage to do given the era. There is no hint here that lesbian relationships are taboo in the Federation. Odan being a woman is not the problem. Maybe that seems half-assed now, but it mattered in 1991.

Finally, I just don't think the episode had time to get into stuff like Riker's memories of the join. That stuff would be interesting, but it's a big deal and you kind of have to either make the whole episode about it or ignore it. Having just one scene of Riker and Crusher talking about it would have probably felt like a weird derail.

In conclusion, writing on your phone is just the worst.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:28 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Data wondering out loud if he could serve as a host for Odan may be the dumbest thing he's ever said.

I like to think that with today's special effects technology they'd depict Data as seeming much more organic on first blush. It's already canon that Dr. Soong's goal was synthetic beings indistinguishable from organic ones, and he achieved it, first via a lifelike surface appearance and sensor trickery inside his dead wife's doppleganger, and later in Picard his work was used to create perfect replicas of humans. I like to think that Data has a lot more quasi-biological organ systems and a lot less of the blinking LED lights than we're shown.

Of course, I still agree 100% that there's no way Data would be a suitable host, not without a team of crack cybernetics scientists and a decade or so of research.

Here's an alternate question: Do we think TNG holodeck tech is advanced enough to have made a holographic host? Neelix gets holographic lungs in an early Voyager episode, sometime around a decade after the events of this episode. For bonus points, could the Bynars' purported boost to the Enterprise's holodeck have possibly made the difference?
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:07 PM on March 5


Lots of things can be said about this one. I will just mention something I always notice...

At the end when Crusher is talking to Odan in her office, Beverly was in love with Odan, she went to bed with Riker-as-Odan, and yet at the very end when she is ending things with Odan, all she can muster is her generic smile.

"Maybe some day we'll learn to love." *fake insincere smile*

Just so little emotion at that point. Gates is a great actress, so I have to chalk it up to bad direction.
posted by Fukiyama at 7:12 PM on March 5


Do we think TNG holodeck tech is advanced enough to have made a holographic host?

I'd say no. I saw Neelix's holo-lungs as basically a heart-lung machine, but a Trill symbiont seems to need a living host in a way that can't be serviced by a non-living simulacrum; a big plot point at the beginning of DS9 S7 happens because a symbiont in transport suddenly takes a turn for the worse and needs a host immediately.

Also, a couple of movies that this ep reminded me of: The Hidden, an SF favorite that came out a few years before this; the possession of the host is involuntary, but otherwise somewhat similar. And, a very different movie, Prelude to a Kiss, based on a play and dealing more squarely with the question of whether it's the physical form of the person that we love or their mind (or soul, if you will).
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:24 PM on March 5


Here's an alternate question: Do we think TNG holodeck tech is advanced enough to have made a holographic host? Neelix gets holographic lungs in an early Voyager episode, sometime around a decade after the events of this episode. For bonus points, could the Bynars' purported boost to the Enterprise's holodeck have possibly made the difference?

4 space years, apparently - the last season and a half of TNG dovetails with DS9, then there's about a full season of DS9 before VOY starts up. According to the by-stardate table:

The Host - CE 2367-10 Stardate 44821.3
Phage - CE 2371-07 Stardate 48532.4

Now I mean, do we consider when the ships were actually built? NCC-1701-D was commissioned on 41025.5 (2364-01) and NCC-74656 was commissioned on 48038.5 (2371-01), but then the Bynars work means the Enterprise's holodeck isn't as originally fitted... *pushes glasses up nose*

But yeah, DS9 established that the trill isn't just a gestating space slug.
posted by Kyol at 7:49 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


It's extremely funny to think about how Starfleet switched uniforms to the Voyager style in 2371 and then immediately ditched them for the First Contact style by 2373. Three different uniforms in just over three years is US Navy level of uniform uncertainty. At least they got to re-replicate their seabags for free.

Poor Voyager ended up wearing those uniforms until 2378, three times longer than the rest of Starfleet.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:18 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


It's extremely funny to think about how Starfleet switched uniforms to the Voyager style in 2371 and then immediately ditched them for the First Contact style by 2373. Three different uniforms in just over three years is US Navy level of uniform uncertainty.

This has always stuck in my craw a bit too, especially w/r/t the Trek RPG. But do the extenuating circumstances impacting Starfleet at that time help explain it?:
2371- the Dominion is introduced to the quadrant;
2372- the Klingon Empire invades the Cardassian Union, Antwerp is bombed and Leyton attempts his coup;
2373- a second Borg cube attacks Earth, AND the freakin' Dominion War begins.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:26 AM on March 10


Odan's defense that he simply had no reason to mention it rings pretty hollow considering how he let people believe that his previous host was his father.

Having the Trill be untransportable and having the symbiote completely override the host are kind of necessary for this story to work, but really don't work for having ongoing Trill characters (and as others have mentioned, it's hard to see the upside of joining for prospective hosts this way)

I was trying to assume the best, and maybe I would've managed if Crusher's speech at the end hadn't gone on quite so long.
posted by ckape at 9:02 PM on March 15


it's hard to see the upside of joining for prospective hosts this way

The Trill symbiont is the source of the galaxy's finest crystal methamphetamine, you see.....
posted by Kyol at 6:28 AM on March 16


I think this episode would've actually benefited from being in an earlier season when Roddenberry would've looked at the script and said in the future humans aren't like that.
posted by ckape at 8:58 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


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